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How your business can survive COVID-19…and beyond

Dr Steven McCabe, experienced economics expert and Associate Professor at Birmingham City University, offers invaluable insight into the challenges your business will face – and possible ways to overcome them.
Photo of Dr Steve McCabe

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How your business can survive COVID-19…and beyond

Dr Steven McCabe, experienced economics expert and Associate Professor at Birmingham City University, offers invaluable insight into the challenges your business will face – and possible ways to overcome them.
Photo of Dr Steve McCabe

A few years ago, Michael Bond wrote a piece for the BBC examining the way in which a person’s preparedness affects their behaviour when confronted with a life-threatening situation – the main thing, the piece concludes, is to avoid “sliding into paranoia” and to recognise what is required to survive.

What we’re currently experiencing is undoubtedly a crisis and, sadly for far too many, may become a personal disaster. Unemployment is likely to rise.  For many people, this will result in depending on benefits that are the lowest in Western Europe.

The dilemmas that such people will face will come as a shock. Priorities will change and assumptions will alter.

Lest anyone claim that this is a piece written by an academic about things that won’t impact on them, wrong. My wife and youngest son were made redundant last week.

Seek funding support

The impact of COVID-19 is going to be profound in terms of health, but another equally traumatic dimension is the economic impact arising from lockdown, and the lingering effects that this is having on collective consumption.

There are a range of funding support measures currently available specifically designed to help both regional and national SMEs, including:

  • BT small business support scheme
  • Manufacturing growth programme
  • Business growth programme 2

Furthermore, although the deadline to apply for them has passed, both the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP’s Your Step Forward and Sky Media SME Support are accepting requests regarding how they can help support small businesses.

Stay optimistic, get creative

As individuals, we learn to balance expenditure against income. This is good housekeeping and was much favoured by Margaret Thatcher, who believed that governments should seek to spend in line with revenue.

However, rising unemployment levels in the early years of Thatcher’s reign soon made it apparent this is not always possible.

But what about the ‘engines’ of prosperity and growth, the businesses that create opportunities for employment that will enable each person to pay their own bills and contribute taxes that will be essential to recovery?

As alluded to above, the economic climate for the next few months is likely to remain turbulent. The fact that COVID-19 has not been eradicated and the lack of a vaccine means that uncertainty will persist.

Planning, though difficult, is still vital. There is plenty of anecdotal research to indicate that optimism acts as a good lubricant to successfully developing new ideas.

The brilliant inventions we take for granted today did not emerge by accident. The key to success is spotting opportunity and getting it to market as soon as possible.

For sure, there may be failure but, crucially, what is important is to learn and, following reflection, develop something better.

Trust your workforce

COVID-19 has already shown that working from home is not as problematic as some thought it would be.

I’ve long thought that the biggest impediment to allowing those who can work from home using virtual means, was inherent distrust of their employees. Too many managers believed that if you can’t see people, they won’t be doing what’s required.

Many organisations have discovered during lockdown that people working from home are just as productive – if not more – than they were in the workplace.

Plus, avoiding the long commutes that so many are forced to make is a good thing individually, organisationally and, as far as the future of the planet is concerned, environmentally.

Anticipate customer needs

Naturally, the biggest concern for many businesses is what their customers want in the future.

It is apparent that COVID-19, lockdown, furlough and the panoply of measure implemented by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to maintain employment until normality returns has undermined collective consumption in many sectors.

The continuance of ‘social distancing’ means that we are going to have to continue to work in different ways to cope.

There is no doubt that there will be some businesses that find the economic environment too challenging. Not being able to meet budget will mean they cease to trade with consequential loss of employment and knock-on impact in terms of tax take for the government.

What is essential, as Sunak intended, is that as many jobs as possible are maintained and, where necessary, innovative ways to deliver superior service and products becomes embedded as part of the organisational culture.

Look beyond survival

Many years ago – almost 30 – I embarked on a PhD study examining the use of quality management.

As part of that study, I was fascinated by how Japan recovered from the disaster of having their industry destroyed as a result of the Second World War and the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By the early 1990s, Japanese products – particularly in electronics and automotive – were regarded as ‘world class’.

This was achieved by learning new ways of working and the philosophy of ‘kaizen’ (continuous improvement) from American gurus such as Dr W. Edwards Deming and Dr Joseph Juran.

As Dr Deming stressed, it’s vital to recognise that you are in a crisis and then be willing to learn and innovate. This is what every business should do.

At present we are undergoing a shift in employment that will create shockwaves. We must recognise that, like another old adage, ‘the darkest hour is before the dawn’, and that it’s absolutely critical we involve our workforce.

Every business should prepare for the dawn that will eventually come and present -for those businesses willing to avail of them – incredible opportunities in providing products and services that, hitherto, no one ever thought about. That is the nature of progress.

As in any crisis, not panicking and maintaining a sense of optimism will ensure survival.

Once you’ve survived, you can live to fight another day.


BCU Advantage offers a number of tools and services that can assist you throughout COVID-19, including financial support, business advice and resources and practical tools, training and webinar. To find out more click the button below.

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Steven is an Associate Professor at BCU’s Institute of Design and Economic Acceleration (IDEA), which works with start-ups and SMEs to help them progress to next stage business development.

He is also a Senior Fellow at BCU’s Centre for Brexit Studies, and has co-edited and contributed to a range of publications regarding Brexit, politics and the Covid-19 pandemic.

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